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Interview with Toren Atkinson

Posted on November 22, 2004 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

In grade nine I was exposed to Dungeons and Dragons, in the same way that old betrenchcoated men in the park expose themselves. Tons of fun, of course, but I didn’t really fathom the rules, so I started to make up my own roleplaying games. I wouldn’t say that my rules were any better, but at least I knew them like the back of my claw!

How did you get into Cthulhu?

I’d like to think that Cthulhu got into me rather than the other way around. I have always loved monsters, the occult, and cephalopods, so my friend Joe who is the webmaster of The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets site gave me Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre thinking that I would enjoy it. He was never more right, and I’d like to suggest that he never will be again.

Where do you get your inspiration? How do you keep your ideas fresh?

Cold storage, of course. Right next to the babies. My inspiration comes from Cthulhu himself – don’t question it!

What advice do you have for hopeful authors trying to get into the RPG industry?

Stay out of my way or I will crush you!

My (actual) advice is make sure you are realistic about what you hope to put in and get out of the industry. It is not a place for someone with delusions of striking it rich, nor is it a place for the timid. By that I don’t mean that it’s like Hollywood where you have to scramble for auditions in a sea of other actors, but rather if you want to succeed in the long run you had better be prepared to weather some rough seas. If you’re satisfied with writing an article or two for Dragon or Pyramid when you’re not busy paying your mortgage with web design, that’s one thing, but if you hope to earn a salary or, Yog forbid, invest your time, money and mental health into a game company, that is quite another. If you can recognize the difference you’re off to a good start.

What has been your most challenging work in the RPG industry?

This kind of skirts the definition of “working in the industry” but finding the time to support all of the games that I love has been a challenge, and this includes Spaceship Zero. It’s a fun little game and If we had the resources to promote it to the world I am certain it would do quite well, but in the real world those resources are divided between the time and energy of many other projects and logically must go towards ventures that provide more immediate return. We’re managing with a small core of fantastic supporters and I’m constantly demo-ing the game at conventions and events within my means to promote the bitch, but to answer the question — that has been a challenge, albeit a challenge I enjoy!

What has been your most rewarding work in the RPG industry?

Seeing my artwork turn out in books month after month is extremely rewarding, but I have to turn back to Spaceship Zero for this one too. Warren Banks and I put our hearts and minds into the book for well over a year, and we took extra time to make sure it came out just the way we wanted. The reviews were universally stellar (little pun there), and it even won an ENnie award. To have your hard work appreciated by your peers, and to hear from gamers about their fun experiences with your game, is extremely gratifying.

Do you consider Horror a mood or a genre? why?

Can it be both? I don’t really believe in black and whites, or even most classification, so to me the term is subjective. I remember going into a video store a few years back and they had changed their “horror” section to their “thriller” section. The movies, of course, were all the same. I thought that was a little silly but if it means more business for the shop, then my attitude is a shoggoth by any other name smells as sweet! I hope I answered the question.

What makes for a good night of Horror gaming?

I recently finished a Call of Cthulhu campaign that was very rewarding, especially when my reporter tried to kill himself but had to rely on a friend to finish the job. We played very loose with the rules. We didn’t turn down the lights or play mood music, we just sat down and gamed every week. That made me realize that above all else, who you play with is the key to a good game in any genre. If you can find a good group, and especially a good gamemaster, don’t take it for granted! Let them know they’re appreciated by working with them as much as possible to make the game more enjoyable for everyone.

That and a good comfortable couch.

What RPGs are you currently playing, if any?

I’ve been running a Freeport campaign for a while, and I just got Black Sails Over Freeport so I’ll be taking advantage of that shortly. In the meantime, I am running D&D for a group composed mostly of women, some of whom are D&D newbies. I always try to have at least one girl (preferably two) in a campaign I run, but I’ve never run a game with more than four gals so it’s an interesting dynamic and lots of fun. I’m constantly running Spaceship Zero – recent games have been composed of a series of short scenarios that pick up where the rulebook and the online pdf “Slave Ship of Despair” left off. I’ve also become extremely excited about starting a Mutants & Masterminds series of short scenarios in a world of anthropomorphic super-animals, akin to Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and/or Underdog. I’m just getting that off the ground but it promises to be a hilarious romp filled with memorable characters like Hypnopotamus, Elongator, Gnucleus and Astromandrill. Any gamers in the Vancouver area are free to join!

What can you tell us about Darkest of the Hillside Thickets?

Well we’re a Cthulhu rock band – what else is there to say? We wear unwieldy, preposterous monster costumes on stage and perform songs about insects, mathematics, and the “Innsmouth look.” We released a CD as part of a special promotion with Wizards of the Coast for their d20 Call of Cthulhu book, and our latest CD is “Spaceship Zero: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.” We secretly plot the downfall of mankind. Or rather, we did until I typed that last sentence.

What’s next for you?

Illustrating for my favorite companies Green Ronin and Malhavoc Press is my bread and butter, but in addition to the steady work they provide I’ll be spending the lonely hours leading up to my climactic death dabbling in music-making, voice-acting, and quite possibly entering the field of kids’ book illustration. It’s all very hush-hush, for your own protection.

For more information on Toren Atkinson, visit his website at: http://wWw.tOrEn.Net/thickets.

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